Showing posts with label Dynamics of Prayer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dynamics of Prayer. Show all posts

Friday, February 6, 2015

But Deliver Us from the Evil One

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
Yesterday we saw that Jesus knows how to deal with temptation. Today we will see that he knows how to deliver us from the evil one. This is not about future promise but about present reality — a prayer that has been answered by the victory of the cross and the establishment of God’s kingdom in the world:

Jesus has bound the evil one and plundered his house. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29; see also Mark 3:23-27 and Luke 11:20-22).

The evil one has been driven out of the world. Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The devil can no longer reign from within the world — all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus (Matthew 28:18) — he can only work his deceits from without. God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).

Jesus has disarmed the “principalities and powers” of the evil one, the demonic influences behind evil rulers and ungodly cultural attitudes and practices. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Those evil powers cannot stand up to kingdom of God.

Jesus has broken the power of the evil one. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Jesus has destroyed the works of the evil one. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

*All Scriptures in this post are taken from the New International Version.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
There are two halves to this petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” and “deliver us from the evil one.” King Jesus has answered both.

Let’s understand this about temptation: Jesus knows how to deal with it. Immediately after he was baptized (Matthew 3), he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temped by the devil (Matthew 4). After forty days and nights of fasting, which was followed by three defining rounds with the devil, he emerged victoriously and began his ministry of preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived.

Jesus dealt with temptation in his own life and prevailed, and he is well able to help you and me as well. The author of Hebrews says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted … For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

The promise we have in him is this: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is a comforting assurance, but more wonderful still is what Second Peter tells us:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Everything we need for a godly life has already been given to us, that we may know the one who has called us by his glory and goodness. In Jesus the Messiah we participate in the divine nature. In him we have escaped the corruption in the world that is caused by evil desires. Paul put it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The life of Jesus the Messiah is now our life — he live in us! It is a life we live by his faithfulness. Let me say it again because it is very important that we understand this: We do not live this life by our own faithfulness but by his. In every trial and every temptation, his life and his faithfulness are always present and at work in us. “In all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And the way we overcome  is through faith in him.

Tomorrow we will look at how Jesus delivers us from the evil one.

*All Scriptures in this post, except where noted, are taken from the New International Version.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Bread of That Day

Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
This, of course, is from the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and in the “Sermon on the Mount” (which I call the “Sermon of Heaven on Earth”). In Luke’s Gospel, where the disciples ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” it reads, “Give us day by day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3).

The Greek word for “daily” is only found in these two places. Origen thought it might have been a termed coined by Matthew and Luke to translate the words of Jesus, which were probably Aramaic.

This word is epiousios and likely comes from epiousa, which concerns time and what is to come. Epiousa is found only five times in the New Testament, all in the book of Acts, where four times it refers to the following day and once to the following night (see Acts 7:26, 16:11, 20:15, 21:18, 23:11). There is another word used for “daily” that refers to the day that is already present. It is the word ephemeros, from which we get our English word “ephemeral,” a word that is about what is fleeting. It is used in James 2:15 — but not here in the Lord’s Prayer.

“Daily bread,” then, is about the bread of the day to come. But which day would that be? To answer that, consider the nature of the Lord’s Prayer and of the sermon in which it is found. It is about the kingdom of God, or as it is rendered in Matthew, the kingdom of heaven. At the end of Matthew 4, we see Jesus announcing the good news that the kingdom of God has come. Then in chapters 5-7, we see him preaching the Sermon, which is, from beginning to end, all about the kingdom of God.

Likewise, the prayer Jesus gave them to pray is about the kingdom of God. Immediately before the bit about “daily bread,” the petition is, “Your kingdom, come; Your will, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And then the request for the bread of the coming day. It is an eschatological request — that is, concerning the “last things,” when everything in God’s plan has been fulfilled and the world has been set right. In other words, the day to come is about the fullness of God’s kingdom age.

So, this is not a prayer that God would give us today the bread that is for today but, rather, give us today that bread that is about that day: Feed us today with the bread of the age to come, the day when all is fulfilled. For the good news announcement is that the kingdom of God has already begun, with Jesus as God’s Anointed King, and will be fully realized on the day King Jesus comes again.

The bread of that day is, in a word, supernatural provision. It may show up in unexpected ways, ways we cannot explain. After all, Jesus knows how to turn water to wine and multiply bread and fish for the multitudes. Shortly after teaching the Lord’s Prayer, and still preaching the Sermon, he said,
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:31-34)
Many people seek hard after their provision, and in ways that have no regard for the kingdom of God — ways that often dishonor his kingdom. But if we are seeking the kingdom of God and his way of living in the world, all of our daily needs will be taken care of. There will be no need to worry about tomorrow, for God will always take care of us with the supernatural provision of his kingdom.

The way I pray this, then, is “Give us this day the bread of that day.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Focus of the Heart Upon God

Contemplative prayer is essentially the focus of the heart, mind and will upon God in love. It is an enjoyment of His presence. It is, as Richard Foster puts it, a loving attention toward God. It is a fulfillment of the greatest commandment — to love God with all our heart, mind and soul. It is what used to be called Christian mysticism. It is a communion with God, who dwells in us through Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah said that God would keep in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on the Lord (Isaiah 26:3). Contemplative prayer is a way of doing that.

The Christian tradition of contemplative prayer is about letting go of all the thoughts that distract our attention and focus on God. Remember Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was worried and upset about many things — she had many distracting thoughts that kept her from being with the Lord. But Jesus said that there was only one thing needed, and that Mary had chosen what was better. She let go of the many things that could have worried and distracted her to embrace the only thing that was really needed. She sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him, enjoying His presence.

That is what Christian contemplative prayer is about. Not emptying our minds of everything but, rather, letting go of every thought that distracts us from Jesus so that we may hear Him and be with Him. It is taking time to be like Mary in the midst of our Martha moments.

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture — perhaps about the love of God, or His grace, mercy or faithfulness — and then leaned back to think about it for a while? And having thought about it, did it turn into a prayer to the Lord, and you were thanking Him for it. Or perhaps asking Him to reveal it deeper in your heart and in your life, to show it through you as well as to you? And when you finished, did you linger for a little while in His presence and enjoy what He had just revealed to you in that Scripture or spoke to you about it in the quietness of your heart?

That is a contemplative way of prayer.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On The Day I Called

On the day I called, You answered me. (Psalm 138:3)
In this psalm, the David gives praise to the LORD for His lovingkindness and loyalty — God has kept His word. And now he gives his reason: “On the day I called, You answered me.”

Many Christians, when they pray, usually wait to see if God has answered their prayer. That is, they are not willing to believe it until they see it, and when they see it, then they will believe it. Of course, there can be some time between when we pray and when we see the answer, between “Amen” and “There it is!” But if we are not willing to believe it until we see it, then that time becomes a matter if instead of when.

However, the Bible teaches us something different about prayer. Look at a couple examples from the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel called on the Lord, and even while he was yet praying, the answer came in the form of an angel: “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. At the beginning of your supplication the command went out, and I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:22-23). Daniel prayed and the answer came right away. But watch what happened on another occasion, in chapter 10. Daniel set his heart to understand something, and during that time he fasted from wine and meat and “pleasant food.” He did this for three weeks, then he had a vision and the hand of an angel suddenly touched him.

“Do not fear, Daniel,” the angel said, “for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Daniel 10:12-13).

Now, notice that in both cases, Daniel’s prayer was answered right from the beginning. In the first instance, the answer showed up immediately, but in the second, the answer did not appear for 21 days. Even so, in both cases, God answered on the day Daniel prayed.

God’s timing is not always our timing, not just because He is eternal while we are finite, but because He sees the “bigger picture” and knows the right time. In the New Testament, there are two different Greek words that are used in regard to time. One is chronos, which speaks of clock or calendar time. The other is kairos, a word that signifies a poignant, purposeful time. God works according to kairos time, the appropriate and propitious time. So, when we pray, God hears and answers us that very day. The answer may come immediately, or it may take a while before it shows up — but it will always come at the right time.

On the day we pray, God answers us. That is what Jesus taught. He said, “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Notice the tense here: “believe that you receive them.” The NASB says, “believe that you have received them.” In other words, we receive the answer at the time we pray. Where I come from, when you have received something from someone, you thank them. So, when we have prayed in faith, that is the appropriate time to say, “Thank You, Lord,” knowing that we have received what we have asked.

That is what the dynamic of faith adds to our prayer. We do not have to wait to see the answer in order to know that we have the answer. We do not see so that we may believe, we believe so that we may see. God hears and answers our prayers on the day we pray them, and if we believe that when we pray, we will surely see it come to pass.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Confidence in Prayer

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
When we do not have confidence that God answers our prayers (in the Bible, to “hear” is to answer), we will not be very inclined to pray. A lot of Christians pray with little confidence and little expectation that they will receive the answer they need. Instead, they salt their prayers with “if it be thy will.”

That’s well and good for prayers of consecration, when you’re looking for direction and committing your way to the Lord. But the apostle John is talking here about petitioning prayer, and that is about praying “according to His will.” Now, he is not speaking of the will of God as some mysterious thing that God plays close to the chest and about which we cannot know but must continually guess. That leads to a sort of fatalism, and “if it be Thy will” becomes an escape clause when our prayers are not answered — “Oh, well, I guess that just wasn’t God’s will.”

But John is speaking of the will of God as something that we can know. Indeed, the Scriptures are full of the will of God. He makes it known at every turn — through His words, His deeds, His promises.

So, for example, when we go to the Lord about a particular need, we do not have to add, “If it be Thy will,” because God has already revealed His will about that: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). When we add “if it be Thy will” where God has already revealed His will, we are not standing in faith but in doubt. Faith comes claiming the promise.

When we know and understand the will of God, and we pray according to it, in agreement with it, claiming and confessing it, we can pray with confidence, knowing that God will hear and give us the answer we seek. And when we have confidence that God answers our prayers, we will be going to Him regularly about everything.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Faith Says Thanks

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it, with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)
We should, of course, always have an attitude of thanksgiving toward God, because we have innumerable blessings. (Here’s a little exercise that can lift your spirit at any moment: Think of one thing for which you can give God thanks. Then see if there is not something else that comes to mind to thank Him for. And one more after that. And another after that.)

What I have in mind today, though, is about when to give thanks for the things we have asked of God in prayer. Should we wait until the answer appears before we say, Thank You, Lord? Or would it be presumptuous to thank Him for it before we even see it come to pass? To answer that, let’s take a look at this very important, perhaps even surprising thing Jesus said about prayer:
Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:24)
That’s a pretty wide open statement. Sure, it is qualified by the context: “Therefore” refers back to having faith in God and how to exercise that faith (Mark 11:22-23). And we need to be in proper alignment with God and His purposes. So, for example, a bank robber cannot expect God to answer his prayer for a good wheel man and a clean get away. But when our faith is in God and we are partnering with what He is doing in the world, then this prayer has a lot of latitude.

What I want you to notice in particular is the word “receive.” The Greek word is lambano and means to “take hold of.” It is like when someone offers you a gift and you reach out to take hold of it — you actively receive it. Lambano is used here in the active voice, not the passive. That is, it is something we do, not something we wait to be done for us. Pay attention especially to the tense, because this will help answer the question I have posed. Jesus does not say, “Believe that you will receive” (future tense), but “Believe that you receive” (present tense). The NASB goes so far as to translate it as a present perfect: “Believe that you have received.”

What this means, then, is that when you have faith in God and are walking in proper relationship with Him, you can pray and know that you have received what you have asked of Him. So when you ask, believe that you have received it — that you have laid hold of it — and it will be yours. And if you believe that you have received it, you don’t have to wait until the answer shows up, you can go ahead and give God thanks for it.

Ask for it by faith, receive it by faith, give thanks for it by faith. As one of my friends likes to say, “Hope says, Please. Faith says, Thanks.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking Hold in Prayer

For everyone who asks takes hold. (Matthew 7:8 JVD)

Asking and receiving are connected. We think of asking as active, that is, something we do. And so it is. But we often think of receiving as passive, that is, something that happens to us or is done for us. For example, someone might say, “I received a blow to the head.” He did not seek it, did not want it, did not cause it; it was simply something that happened to him. He was passive, sitting quietly, minding his own business when, suddenly — wham! — he was hit on the head.

Jesus has something very important to teach is about prayer: “Everyone who asks receives.” He is not speaking of something active followed by something passive. No, both the asking and the receiving here are in the active voice. That is, they are both about something we do.

The Greek word for “receive” is lambano. It means to take or get hold of something, as if with the hand. Now, it does not mean to take something by force, as if to wrench it away from someone else. There is a different word for that. Rather, it is about things that belong to you or have been offered to you. And that is the case here. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” When we ask (active voice), something is given (passive voice). In other words, when we ask, something is offered to us, and that means we have a right to take hold of it.

A young man is working his way through college and needs a car. He goes to his father for help. Dad agrees (he’s a nice guy) and arranges to get him a sturdy little sedan. The son believes his father and now his expectation is that the car his father promised is his. He has received his father’s answer; that is, he has taken hold of it and the issue is now settled. There may be a brief time of waiting before the car arrives while the father works out the particulars, but the son has asked and has already received what he asked — he has taken hold of his father’s answer.

“Ask and it shall be given to you,” Jesus said, “for everyone who asks receives.” Asking and receiving work together. But when do we receive what we have asked? Jesus answered that on another occasion: “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). Notice He does not say, “Believe that you will receive them” (future tense), but “Believe that you receive them” (present tense). The NASB translates it as “Believe that you have received them” (past tense, completed action). In other words, the receiving comes at the time of asking, when you ask in faith.

Faith is very important when we pray. It is how we receive, or take hold of, what we are asking for. The author of Hebrews says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word for “substance” is hypomone and refers to the underlying reality of a thing. In some ancient Greek documents, this word was used to refer to the title-deed of a piece of land. The word for “hope” speaks of expectation or anticipation. So faith is the underlying reality, the title-deed of what we are fully expecting to see.

Jesus says that when we ask, it will be given to us. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus does not lie; when He says the Father will give it to us, then the Father will give it to us. We can fully expect that we will have it. Indeed, by faith we possess the substance of it, the underlying reality, the title-deed for it.

Now let’s put this all together, with the understanding of what it means to receive and how we actually do it.
Ask and it shall be given to you, for everyone who asks takes hold. So whatever you ask when you pray, believe you take hold of it, and you will have it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When the Spirit Takes Hold of Prayer

Yesterday, I talked about taking hold of answered prayer. Today, I want to talk about when the Holy Spirit takes hold of prayer.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26)
In Romans 8, Paul talks about a number of things that “work together for good” for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (v. 28). Now he comes to how the Holy Spirit “helps” us in prayer. It is because we have a weakness: We do not know what or how to pray. So the Spirit of God comes to “help” us in exactly where we need it most.

This word, “help,” is very interesting and is what I want to talk about today. The Greek word for it here is synantilambano. It is made up of three components:
  1. syn, a prefix which means “together with.”
  2. anti, which means “over against” or “opposite.”
  3. lambano, the word we talked about yesterday and means “to take hold of.” In the middle or passive voice, which is how it is found here, lambano means “to take hold of in turn.”
Taken all together in the middle or passive voice, it is a picture of one taking upon himself the burden of another in order to share it with him. Like two men carrying a timber, one at one end and one at the other, or two people rowing together in a boat, either across from each other at an oar. That is what the Holy Spirit does with us in prayer. He doesn’t do it for us but with us. He takes hold of prayer and “pulls” with us because, otherwise, we would not know how to do it.

How does He help us, then? Paul says He makes intercession for us. While we are praying, He is praying with us and for us, praying on our behalf what we do not know how to pray. Paul describes it as “groanings which cannot be uttered.” Groanings or sighs “too deep for words,” is how the NASB puts it. The Greek text can mean either that they are unutterable (cannot be uttered) or simply that they are unuttered, which is how the HCSB has it: The Spirit intercedes for us with “unuttered groanings.” The point is that the Holy Spirit is doing this in us as we pray whether or not we have any other awareness of it. Although, sometimes it may manifest as a deep burden or travail we feel inside, or as a profusion of tears, or as the heaving of sighs, or perhaps even as speaking in tongues, words that have no particular meaning to our understanding but arise from the Spirit praying in us.

Now, let me ask you. Whenever the Holy Spirit prays, do you think that the Father hears and answers His prayers? Of course, He does. How could it be otherwise? In verse 27, Paul says, “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” The Holy Spirit is always praying for us according to the will of God. The Father certainly knows what the mind of His Spirit at work in us is, and the Spirit knows exactly what is in the heart and mind of the Father (1 Corinthians 2:11). God will always respond to what He Himself is doing in us and answer the prayers that He Himself produces in us.

We never enter into prayer alone. The Spirit of God is always there with us, taking hold of prayer with us. He always knows what He is doing, so we should be attentive and always follow His lead. Paul says we should always be praying with all kinds of prayers in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). The Holy Spirit bears the burden with us and knows how to get the job done. Our part is to pray in faith, knowing that our prayer, along with His, works together for our good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Taking Hold of Answered Prayer

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 ESV)

“Therefore” is there for a reason. Jesus was teaching the disciples something very important about faith and doubt and moving mountains.

Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (Mark 11:22-23)
The truth here is that we can have what we say when we believe what we say and do not doubt it in our hearts. Now Jesus applies this to prayer:
  • Whatever you ask in prayer. The Greek words that make up “whatever” here mean just that: whatever. There is no request too big for God to handle nor too small for God to care about. The word for “ask” is about what you desire, request, crave or call for. The word for “prayer” is a form of the verb proseuchomai. It is pressing in toward God with your request.
  • Believe that you have received it. Notice carefully here that Jesus does not say, “Believe that God can answer it.” There is an often-quoted saying: “Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that God will.” Jesus puts it even finer edge on it here. What are we to believe when we make our request to God in prayer? Not that we will receive it (future tense) but that we have received it (aorist tense, signifying completed action).
  • And it will be yours. What we have secured by praying and believing we have received will eventually show up. “Faith is the substance [underlying reality] of things hoped for [anticipated, expected]” (Hebrews 11:1). We can expect it to come.
Now for the word of the day. I want to talk about “received.” The Greek verb is lambano. It is not a passive word, as we often tend to think about receiving something. It is active. It means to “take hold of.” Whatever we desire or ask when we pray, we are to believe that we have taken hold of it. In Hebrews 11:1, the Greek word for “substance,” hypostasis, was often used to refer to the title-deed for a piece of land. If you held the title-deed to a property, it was the proof that that property was yours.

In prayer, we are to believe, that is, exercise faith, that we have “taken possession” of whatever we have asked. We are to count it as a “done deal.” Even the word we often close our prayers with shows this. When we say, “Amen,” it is not a polite, religious way of saying “Over and out,” or “See You later, God.” It is a powerful word that expresses faith. It is akin to the Hebrew word aman, which is about believing. It is a word of assurance, as when Jesus would often say, “Truly;” in the Greek text the word is amen (actually an Aramaic term). When you say “Amen” at the end of your prayers, let it be a word of faith that what you have just asked God for in prayer, and believed you have taken hold of, is truly yours and will come to pass. That is the assurance Jesus gives.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Towardness of Prayer

The Greek word use most commonly for “pray” in the New Testament is proseuchomai. It is made up of two words. One is euchomai, which means to petition or request and is the expression of a wish or desire. It used only a couple of times in the New Testament as “pray.” In the surrounding cultures, it was used as a word for petitioning deity. It came to be modified by the prefix pros and by the time of the early Church, this new form prevailed.

The second part of proseuchomai, and the one I want to focus on here in regard to prayer, is the prefix, pros. It is a preposition indicating directionality, with the force or sense of “toward.” I am especially captured by it when I think of John 1:1 and how this little word, pros, is used in that context: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Here it is translated as “with.” In the beginning, Jesus (the Word) was with God. But pros indicates something more than that. Jesus was not merely with God, as if they were just sitting side by side. No, Jesus was positioned toward God. There was a purpose, an intent, a focus — they were face to face! Indeed, the Greek word for “face” in Scripture is prosopon, the prefix pros, with the word ops, which comes from a word that means to look at or behold. The phrase “face to face” in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face,” is prosopon pros prosopon, face toward face.

In the beginning, Jesus and the Father were with each other face to face, is as if they were discussing something, conceiving something, planning something. This plan is bound up in the term by which Jesus is referred to here: the Word. A word is something that is spoken. The Greek is logos, from lego, “I say.” What happens a few verses later, John 1:14, is the result of this speaking, this towardness between Jesus and the Father: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Jesus was toward the Father, in intimate fellowship with God, and out of that communion rose the plan for restoring mankind and reconciling all things to Himself, so that one day we, too, will see God prosopon pros prosopon, face to face. It is not that we have no fellowship with God now — we do, with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is rich and wonderful and full of great joy. But one day we shall experience Him in a much greater way.

In the meantime, we have the “towardness” of prayer, proseuchomai. We are with Him, toward Him, pressing into His presence and into His purposes, bringing our requests, our desires, our dreams before His face. He is also with us, toward us, and in that communion, something is conceived, given life. Then, just as the Word was with God and the Word became flesh, when we direct ourselves toward God and share our dream and desire with Him, and He shapes it, mingling with it His own dream and desire for us, there is a word that comes forth into the world. It is an answer, a fulfillment, a manifestation of what has been conceived in that towardness between us and God.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Directing God in Prayer?

The question came up our Tuesday a.m. Bible study this morning (after our prayer time and before we got into our study of 1Peter — actually, we ended up discussing this instead of studying 1 Peter) as to whether we direct God in prayer. During our discussion, I was reminded of a couple of things. One was Isaiah 45:11.
Thus says the LORD,
The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker;
“Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons;
And concerning the work of My hands; you command me.”
I’ve blogged about this verse a few times in recent years:
An interesting passage in Genesis 2 also came to mind. It is after God formed man from the ground and puffed the breath of life from His own lips into Adam’s nostrils, and man became a “living being.” The Targum Onkelos, an ancient translation/commentary of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic, renders this as “speaking spirit.” Just as God breathed out words, man was likewise created with that same capacity (see What Are You Naming Things?)

What interests me here is what happens next, when God brings the animals to Adam.
Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)
Notice carefully: God did not tell Adam what to name the animals. Instead, He brought them to him to see what he would name them. This was no small thing. Names are very important in the Bible. They impart identity and speak of destiny.

God authorized man from the beginning to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over all creation. So it is significant that God did not micromanage Adam, telling him what to call the animals, but gave him room to operate in that larger mandate.

This speaks to me of personal relationship, with all of its give and take. Adam understood who he was in God and who God was in him and he operated freely in that understanding. God’s purpose was big in his heart (at least at that point) and he lived, not as a slave but as a son.

That is how I think of prayer, as a personal relationship with all of its give and take. God is not my slave, nor am I his — both of those ideas are faulty, ditches on either side of the road. Rather, He is my Father and I am His son. Prayer is about understanding who He is and what is His glory, learning who He is in me and who I am in Him, letting His purposes get big in my heart, then operating in that understanding. We plot, we plan, we strategize together. We talk about things that could be done, things that should be done and things that must be done. He gives me wisdom, guidance, direction; I claim the promises He has made and lay hold of the provisions He has given. It is a partnership we share together in the world, to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. All this goes on in prayer with God, with King Jesus interceding by His blood (Hebrews 7:25) and the Holy Spirit laying hold and pulling together with me (Romans 8:26).

Friday, May 1, 2009

Expectation is the Soul of Patience

In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice;
In the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.
(Psalm 5:3 HCSB)
This is one of my favorite verses in the Psalms, and has been very helpful to me in the past. When we lift our prayer to the Lord in faith, there is an expectation. Though there is usually a period of waiting in between “Amen” and “There it is,” expectation is the soul of patience. “Faith is the substance [underlying reality] of things hoped for [expected]” (Hebrews 11:1).

Why does David have such expectation when he prays? It is the confidence of knowing this:
For surely, O LORD, You bless the righteous;
You surround them with Your favor as with a shield.
(Psalm 5:12 HCSB)
The favor of God belongs to those who are His and is seen by those who walk in His ways. Being assured of His favor creates expectation. Confident expectation causes us to endure. It is the soul of patience. (See also, Praying With Expectation.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ask, Receive, Seek, Find and Knock

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
Many people are familiar with this passage, and much has been written about what it promises. But I would like focus, for a moment, on what it does not say. It says, “Ask, seek and knock,” not, “Ask, sit and wait.” In other words, it is an active process, not a passive one, and our responsibility does not begin and end with asking. There is also seeking and knocking.

Ask. Asking is not just realizing that you have a need. It requires that you articulate that need, and more especially, what is the solution you desire. And you must take the request to the appropriate source. Many people fail to receive what they need because they do not ask. “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Or they ask with the wrong motive. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Or they do not ask with the appropriate specificity. For example, you may have a lot of money in your bank account, but you cannot simply walk in and say, “I need money” and expect to receive. They will first need to know how much of your money you want to withdraw and then, upon your signature, they will get it for you.

Receive. With asking comes receiving. The promise is that when you ask, whatever you ask will be given to you. But that is not enough. You must also receive it. The Greek word for “receive” here is lambano, and means to take, to lay hold, to procure and make it your own (Thayer’s Greek Definitions). It is not passive, but active. It is the same word we find in Mark 11:24, where Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” The NASB says, “Believe that you have received them.” We lay hold by actively believing that it has been granted.

Seek. Having asked, and confident that we have received, it is time to actively watch for it, to search diligently for it and actively seek it out. It may call for research, and will certainly require discernment. Many may ask, believe that they have received it, but then miss it when it comes because they do not watch for it or recognize it, so it passes them by. Bummer. When we ask, we must then be certain to watch for it and expect to see it.

Find. When we diligently watch for and seek out the answer, confident that we have already receive it, we will find it. The Greek word for “find” is huerisko and means to come upon, hit upon, meet up with “to find by enquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, to find out by practice and experience,” to “see, learn, discover, understand” (Thayer’s).

Knock. Many times when we ask and then seek, what we will find is a door, and it will be closed. Do not stop there and go away or you will miss your answer. You must knock. When you do, you will discover that it will be opened for you—God will see to it. Now, you may find some doors, when they are opened up to you, do not hold your answer. In that case, you keep seeking until you find the door that does. That door does exist, and your answer will surely be there.

Some people ask God for things, but do not lay hold of them by faith. Then they sit and wait, and wait, and wait, and wonder why the answer never showed up. But faith not only waits for the answer, it puts on it shoes and diligently searches for the answer, patiently knocking on all the doors it finds until it gets to the right one.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Faith Focuses on the Answer

“Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)
People often focus more on the problem than they do the solution. Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda where a man who had been infirmed for thirty-eight years was waiting for the “moving of the water.” It was said that an angel would come down at a certain time and stir up the water, and whoever stepped into it first would be healed of whatever disease he had. So the man waited. When Jesus saw him lying there on his little pallet, and knowing how long he had been infirm, He asked him a very simple question: “Do you want to be made well?”

The man, however, had become so fixated on the problem (his infirmity) that he lost sight of the answer (healing), and he gave a terribly muddled answer: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” This was not even the primary problem, but a secondary one associated with the particular way he desired to get the primary one solved. He did not have a clear picture of the solution he needed to his real problem, so he was unable to give a straightforward response to a Jesus’ simple question. His faith, like his reply, was confused.

Jesus addressed him again, taking his focus off the problem and onto the answer. He was simple and direct: “Rise. Take up your bed. Walk.” There was healing in those words. Now it was up to the man to believe and obey what Jesus said. Had he remained focused on the complexity of his problems, he might never have heard and believed — and received his healing. But once he focused on the answer, which is always going to be found in Jesus and the Scriptures, his primary problem was solved and the secondary one was no longer relevant. He rose, took up his bed and walked.

But now consider Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who cried out for mercy as Jesus passed by (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus called him over and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus did not whine and complain about his blindness or how hard it was to be a beggar. He did not hesitate, but immediately spoke out the solution he desired, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” He did not deny the problem. He fully recognized it, but his focus was on the answer — the One who could bring his healing to pass and restore his sight. Jesus answered, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” Bartimaeus immediately received his sight and followed Jesus. His faith was specific to the need, and by that faith he saw — and received — the solution to his problem.

Or remember the woman with the “issue of blood” (Matthew 9:20-22; also Luke 8:43-48). She had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, rendering her ceremonially unclean, unable to go into the temple or socialize freely with others. When Jesus passed by on His way to heal the daughter of Jairus, she saw her answer. She followed Him, watching for an opportunity to touch the tassels of His prayer shawl, the corners or “wings” of His garment (see Healing in His Corners). As she followed, she kept saying to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” She did not remind herself of what a terrible problem she had or how she had spent all her money on doctors to no avail. No, by her “self-talk” she kept herself focused on the solution: Jesus, the Son of God with “healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). When she finally touched His tassels, her hemorrhaging immediately stopped. Jesus discovered what she had done and, instead of being angry, commended her, saying, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” By the focus of her faith, expressed by her words and actions, she laid hold of the answer to her problem.

It is helpful to identify the problem and get a good diagnosis of it. But then having done that, we must keep the focus of our faith on the Answer.

Healing Scriptures and Prayers

Healing Scriptures and Prayers
by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Agreement in Jesus’ Name is a Threefold Cord

Someone asked if it is necessary to get in agreement with another in order for our faith confession of the Word to come to pass.

If we have faith in the Word of God, even if nobody else is believing it with us, it is still more than enough to get the job done, because the promises of God are sure. The thing about coming into agreement with others concerning matters we are believing God for is that it is a very great encouragement to our faith; we know that we are not alone in it, but there is someone else who is standing in faith with us. It helps us stay focused and not give up. It also helps us to check our heart so that we are not believing with the wrong motive, or for something that does not belong to us. And when the thing we are believing God for comes to pass, we know there is someone with whom we can rejoice. So getting into agreement with another is a very powerful thing. God honors it.

Think about Leviticus 26:8, where God says of those who obey and honor Him that five shall chase a hundred (1:20 ratio), and that one hundred shall put ten thousand to flight (1:100 ratio). When there is agreement, the increase in effectiveness increases exponentially. That is, it doesn't just add up — it multiplies!

Or consider what the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together,
they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another,
two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Or remember how David described the blessing of unity, which is essentially about coming into agreement:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing —
Life forevermore.
(Palm 133)
And of course, wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, He is there in the midst — it is an open heaven. When we are in agreement with Jesus and with each other about anything on earth, we have a direct line to our Father in heaven, and it will be done for us. Guaranteed.

Sometimes the only one we have we can agree with is Jesus, and that is powerful enough. But it is even better when we have someone else and it becomes a threefold cord.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Authentic Prayer Requires a Forgiving Heart

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
The prayer model Jesus gave His disciples said, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Now He gives the matter special attention. I believe this is because unwillingness to forgive is one of the most powerful hindrances to prayer. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, gives his commentary on this passage: “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others.”

Jesus also addresses unforgiveness in another place, in the same context where He teaches the disciples about mountain-moving prayer and faith:
Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:22-25)
As powerful and effective prayer and faith are, even to the moving of mountains, if we do not forgive others, we are not in a position for God to hear us. When we do not forgive others, we are still in unrepentance and not yet ready to receive forgiveness. But when we do forgive others, we are better able to hear the Father’s heart and pray in agreement with it. For His desire is to forgive, and when we pray in agreement with His will, we can know that He hears us, and knowing that He hears us, we can know that we will receive whatever we ask (1 John 5:14-15).

Authentic prayer requires a forgiving heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Authentic Prayer

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5-6)
Jesus was not banning public prayer meetings; He was putting a check on the motives of the heart. It we are doing it to be seen by men, to show off our devotion, we are simply play-acting, hypocrites. The satisfaction it brings, if any, will quickly evaporate, and we will have nothing left to show for it. James pegged it pretty well: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3).

God has no regard for prayer that arises from the actor’s repertoire; He is looking for prayer that comes from the secret place of the heart. That is the place where we are most able to be ourselves, to be open and honest before God and pour ourselves out to Him. Authentic prayer is about personal relationship, not public performance.
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
The Greek word for “heathen” is ethnikoi and refers to the Gentiles, the nations, the pagans, who had no covenant with God. “Vain repetitions” speaks of babbling, spouting meaningless words, without thought—and without faith. Pagan prayers regularly piled up many words and names for their deities, hoping to get divine attention. But the idea that such mindless multiplication of prayers and words was effective had also begun to slip into Jewish devotional practice.

Regardless of how many times they are repeated, words without faith do nothing to please God. “For without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus said that we shall have to give account for every idle word at the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36). As Martin Luther wisely put it, “The fewer words, the better prayer.” But let them be faith-filled words. These are the kind of prayers God answers.

The kingdom of heaven on earth requires authentic prayer.

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Asking in Jesus’ Name

And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15:16)

And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23-24)
Many people seem to think that asking in Jesus’ name means tacking “In Jesus’ name” onto the end of our prayers. That is nothing but magical thinking, treating the name of Jesus as nothing more than a charm.

Asking in Jesus’ name really means asking according to His purposes and the things He would ask. Jesus said only what He heard the Father saying, and did only what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19, 30). He was all about pleasing the Father and doing His will (John 8:28-29). Asking in Jesus’ name is really about asking in agreement with the Father’s will.

Many Christians think of the will of God as a terrible burden that we must submit to and somehow learn to live with, as if the furthest thing from God’s mind was for us to enjoy life. Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s will for us is good. Paul says of those who believe that God has “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5), and God is not a child-abuser.

Jesus came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10). When He announced His ministry and what it would be about, He said,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
This is the will of God, and it is nothing but good for you and me. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Praying in Jesus’ name is asking according to the will of God. The apostle John, who preserved for us the promises about asking in Jesus’ name, understood very well how powerful it is to pray according to the will of God:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
John understood equally well how good the will of God is toward us. We see this in his prayer for Gaius: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).

Jesus authorizes us to ask of the Father in His name, and whatever we ask, the Father will do. The purpose is that the Father may be glorified through His will being done on earth as it is in heaven. The result is that we may bear much fruit, the kind that lasts. The Father is glorified by that also: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8). When we ask in Jesus’ name, we will share in His joy, just as He shares in His Father’s joy: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

God’s will is to bless the world through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a dark and gloomy imposition that we have to, somehow, come to terms with. No, it is a wonderful promise that we can count on to bless us, and others through us. It is even powerful enough to take those things that might otherwise be a burden, and turn them into a revelation of His joy at work in us, filling us with His pleasure.

Asking in Jesus’ name is asking according to the will of God, which is nothing but good for you and me. When we ask as Jesus would ask, we can be confident that we will receive whatever we ask.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

How to Rejoice Always

Rejoice always. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
The Greek word used here for “rejoice” means to be glad, full of cheer, joyful. Paul tells us not only to rejoice, but to rejoice always — to always be full of cheer and gladness.

How is that possible? We find Paul saying that same thing in his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:6). Notice the prepositional phrase “in the Lord.” The kind of joy Paul is talking about is supernatural — the joy of the Lord. Nehemiah said, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

This joy is an inside job; it does not come from outward circumstances. Real joy is not based on what is happening around you, but on what is happening in you. You can have the greatest joy in the worst of situations, and that joy will be the strength you need to prevail in the hardest of adversities.

We receive this joy, first of all, through faith in Jesus Christ, who came that we might reconciled to God. Through faith in Him we receive the new birth, born of heaven by the Holy Spirit. By that birth, we are born into the kingdom of God, and that has everything to do with joy. For one thing, Jesus said that when we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, everything else will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33). For another, the Bible tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

The kingdom of God is full of joy because the Spirit of God is the source of joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If you know Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you; if you have the Holy Spirit, then you already have the fruit of the Spirit at work in you. It may not yet be apparent in your life, but it is a work in you, ready to be released.

How do you release this joy of the Lord in your life? You release it by yielding to it, and since it is a fruit of the Spirit, you yield to it by yielding to the Spirit. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul put it this way:
Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
Let the Holy Spirit fill you, control you, lead you. Then you will be filled with so much joy, you will not be able to contain it all, but it will overflow to others. Your heart will be filled with gratitude and your mouth with praise, regardless of whatever difficulties you may be facing.

True and lasting joy is all about God. David said, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). In Jesus Christ, God is present in us by His Spirit, and when we yield to the Spirit, that presence begins to manifest in our lives. Not only that, but Paul tells us that we are seated in the heavenlies in Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 2:6). When we become aware of who we are in Jesus Christ, and where we are seated in Him, it is hard not to rejoice.

Father, I thank You for Jesus Christ, who came to save me and make me Yours. I thank You that I am already seated in the heavenly places in Him, at Your right hand, where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore. I thank You that the fruit of joy is already at work in me through the Holy Spirit. I yield to Your Holy Spirit of Joy, and I thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.